Fight over young immigrants ensnares aviation bill

Orrin Hatch, James Lankford, Thom Tillis
The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — House Democrats on Monday demanded a vote on protections for an estimated 800,000 immigrants brought to the United States as children and now here illegally, throwing into jeopardy unrelated legislation to extend federal aviation programs and provide tax breaks for hurricane victims.

“America’s patriotic young Dreamers must have swift action on the bipartisan DREAM Act,” said Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “In addition, we face urgent deadlines for Community Health Centers, the State Children’s Health Insurance Program and issues that relate to affordable flood insurance.”

Republicans had hoped to pass a package of legislation addressing the FAA and tax breaks for hurricane victims on an expedited basis late Monday, but opposition from Pelosi and other Democrats raised doubts about its prospects.

Pelosi said Congress is facing an array of urgent deadlines, but GOP leaders loaded up a bill to keep the Federal Aviation Administration operating for six more months with unrelated and inadequate items. She said the tax provisions added to the bill don’t treat all families recovering from natural disasters the same.

“All Americans, no matter where they live, deserve the same relief and resources they need to rebuild their lives,” Pelosi said.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., accused Democrats of putting politics before disaster relief and air traffic safety.

“It’s shameful that politics will trump meaningful relief for families suffering from these devastating hurricanes,” Ryan said. “House Democrats are willing to shut down air traffic control to make a political point.”

The tax breaks put into the bill for victims of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria would ease requirements for deducting individual property losses and allow people to draw on their retirement funds without penalty. The legislation also seeks to encourage people around the U.S. to donate to hurricane relief efforts by temporarily suspending limits on deductions for charitable contributions.

Pelosi is using her leverage to keep relief for young immigrants in the spotlight after securing support from President Donald Trump to protect those immigrants while also bolstering border security. Trump rescinded the Obama-era program and gave Congress six months to come up with a solution.

Meanwhile, three GOP senators unveiled their own proposed solution to helping young immigrants brought into the country illegally as children. Their bill would offer those who came into the country below the age of 16 a pathway to remaining permanently. For consecutive, five-year stints, they would have to meet various requirements, namely maintain a job, earn a degree or serve in the military, pay their taxes and follow the law. After that decade period, they could apply for a green card.

“This act is about the children. It’s completely merit based,” said Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C. “If you work hard, if you follow the law, and you pay your taxes, you can stay here permanently,”

The bill’s co-sponsors said they didn’t envision their bill as a stand-alone measure. It would have to be combined with other efforts to secure the border. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, an original supporter of the so-called DREAM Act legislation being pursued by Democrats, said he was joining with Tillis and Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., because their bill had the best shot at passing.

“Frankly, these are young people who have a real ability to contribute to our society,” Hatch said. “In many cases, in most cases, they’re educated by us. In many cases, they don’t even know the former lands from which their parents came. They only know the United States of America.”

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